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Italian football can save Italy, but only if Italy saves Italian football

Italian football may be the country’s biggest hope, but it needs to save its footballing future.

Italy v Sweden - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: Second Leg Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

As disappointing and appalling as Italy’s 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign was, there’s definitely some positives to take away that could help Italy, both in football and the economy, down the road.

Let’s start with the manager of the football team. While many commonly tweeted #VenturaOut throughout the campaign, they did indeed get their wish (too little too late though). Shortly after the playoff loss to Sweden, Ventura followed Chiellini, Barzagli, De Rossi, and Buffon out the door, though was not lauded quite as much as the retiring legends for obvious reasons. With torrid times comes the need for change, and this is about as big a wake up call as you can imagine. The two names I’ve seen most linked with the Italian job have been Maldini and Ancelotti, with the latter surely being the preference among most. Although Ancelotti lacks national team experience, Maldini lacks any managerial experience and while I’m sure it would make for eye-catching headlines it’s simply not whats needed right now. If Ancelotti doesn’t want the job I’m a huge fan of Atalanta’s Gasperini as he is in my mind the most exciting tactician in Europa and the Serie A right now. Regardless, I’m certain the Italian soccer federation will carefully select the next manager such that the fans will welcome him with joy and without heavy criticism because the federation simply cannot afford it.

On a much larger scale, this is similar to Germany’s footballing crisis in the late 90s and early 2000s where the results were astoundingly poor. What did Germany do to make up for this? They started to invest heavily in their youth programs and installed a load of street courts in low income areas to not only reduce crime but to build a natural love for the game as a pastime and outlet. We can see the results in wonderful footwork from the likes of Draxler, Reus, Gotze, Brandt, Sane, and many more.

Italy hasn’t done much to invest in their country’s homegrown talent and perhaps that could be due to the very nature of Italy’s poor economy. 2014-2017 marked poor times in the Italian economy with rampant deflation and prior to 2017 they suffered mostly negative GDP growth. This has surely hurt the footballing world in Italy. Another driver is the historically high unemployment rate over the last 5 years (almost triple that of the US at one point). Italy’s sovereign debt has also unfortunately climbed to the second highest in the eurozone as well, raising frustration.

All this being said, Italy still has a nice crop of young players on the come up who are loaded with talent. Bernadeschi, Donnarumma, Locatelli, Cutrone, Romagnoli, Rugani, Berardi, Benassi, Caldera, Belotti, Calabria, I could go on but you get the point. Italy has youthful talent, but they go to waste when the manager isn’t fielding a team that can win against poorer sides. The previous crop of younger players, barring Insigne and Veratti, just haven’t been very good. Italy’s been an aging squad and while I previously said in the prior paragraph that they don’t invest enough in the youthful talent, they were admittedly lucky with heavy investment from foreign entities as of recent and scouts doing their jobs very well. The poor quality of the Serie A in prior years was sending young talent to waste. Investment from China and other entities is surely helping the cause now and scouts have done their job effectively with the average age of all of those players falls right around 20.

I’ll sum it up to make this relatively brief. Italy has the up and coming talent and the coaching options are there. Italy’s economy may not be the up and comer that the world would like to see, but you have to wonder if success from the domestic league as well as the national team could start to help with that poor economy. There is light in the darkness that is the current state of Italian football and the economy as well.